The response to last week’s airing of Australian Story looking at Mingoola’s intake of refugee families has been fast and overwhelming, with offers coming from across the country from people wanting to help in any way they can.
Deputy prime minister and federal member for New England Barnaby Joyce provided the foreword to the episode and reports being inundated with calls from all over Australia to replicate this model in other small, rural towns. Charles Dunk’s post on the MP’s Facebook page was typical of dozens of others: “This was a real "feel good" story. It was real and true and attainable for others if people have the same vision.”
Julia Harpham – who spearheaded the effort to revitalise the village in general and the local school in particular by turning derelict farm houses into homes for refugee families – watched the episode in the company of two of those families.
She said while some parts of the show were hard to watch (where they spoke of family members lost in civil war), there were some which were hilarious. Two which amused her guests greatly were when Julia declared she was plenty strong enough to unload a chair from a truck and then proceeded to drop it, and the fact that some dialogue was subtitled for clarity.
“They were especially amused that Phil was subtitled,” she said, referring to husband Phil Harpham, “but he does have a strong Australian drawl, and they have such a great sense of humour.”
Julia felt very nervous in the lead-up to the airing.
“I felt I was really on the line here, even though I trusted Kristine (Walker, the producer),” she said.
“Kristine even rang me back to clarify something that I hadn’t explained very well. Even though I felt very exposed, in the end I wondered why and it was a lovely story.”
Since then Julia has received a deluge of text messages, emails and letters and the phone just keeps on ringing with offers of help.
“One person said the story made them proud to be Australian,” she said.
I think there are a lot of people who are desperately sorry for refugees but had no outlet.Julia Harpham
“This really seems to have struck a chord. I think there are a lot of people who are desperately sorry for refugees but had no outlet.”
Julia was chuffed that Australian Story picked up one of her quotes to title the episode Field of Dreams. ‘Let’s build it and they will come’ she is shown saying to other community members as plans are made to accept up to four refugee families.
She was told that while one-in-five Australian Story episodes receive around 100,000 ‘hits’ when they’re previewed on the ABC’s Facebook page – and producers are pleased with that level of interest – Field of Dreams received more than 500,000.
Other communities are keen to adopt a similar project, and Julia is happy for them to learn from her experience.
“Looking back, there were things I spent enormous amounts of energy on with little to show for it, and other things I could have focussed on more,” she said.
“These are subsistence farmers stuck in the middle of big cities, which is very confronting and confining. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for them to get out of these cities.”